Does it take longer to sell to consumers or businesses? Are consumers more likely to maintain an ongoing relationship with companies they buy from? Or are business customers more loyal?
Knowing the answers to these questions can make or break your sales initiatives. Here’s why: Selling to consumers and selling to businesses? They’re two entirely different things. To maximize your sales efforts, it helps to understand how they differ—and how they’re similar.
Here are four key differences between business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) sales processes, along with success strategies for each.
1. Consumers react to emotions; businesses react to needs
Consumers often respond when their emotions are engaged. For evidence, scroll through Adweek’s “The 25 Best Ads of 2017 (So Far).” Each campaign is calculated to arouse feelings—desire (for a product or service) in particular but also laughter, surprise, even anger. And, of course, they’re designed to cause the consumer to buy.
Research using neuro-imagery “shows that when evaluating brands, consumers primarily use emotions (personal feelings and experiences) rather than information (brand attributes, features, and facts),” according to Psychology Today.
B2B sales tactics have been known to engage emotions as well. The target customer is, after all, a human being. But business purchases are often tied to specific goals, objectives and priorities—needs vs. wants. And those goals are frequently linked to specific problems or challenges the customer needs to overcome.
“When a (B2B) salesperson uses value selling techniques to identify the needs of the customer and highlight how those needs are met by the product being sold, the customer becomes more invested in acquiring that product,” observes Jim Heffernan, in a ROI Selling blog post “Why Value Based Selling Is So Successful.”
Success strategies: For B2C, engage your target customer’s emotions, without coming off as opportunistic or exploitative. In B2B sales, focus on the problem your product or service solves and the value it provides. Take your target customer’s pain points seriously. Show, rather than tell, how you solve them. And if you can engage their emotions too, you’re ahead of the game.
2. The consumer sales cycle is short; the business sales cycle is long
Price has much to do with how quickly a consumer or business makes a buying decision. Generally speaking, consumers may decide within minutes whether to make a purchase, unless it’s a big-ticket item such as a car. And in most cases, a consumer may only need to confer with a spouse or friend—or no one at all—before clicking the buy button.
In comparison, many products or services geared toward businesses cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, if not more. Consequently, multiple people may be involved in a purchasing decision, which can drag out and complicate the sales process. For example, if it’s time to upgrade your business computers, you may first need various department heads, end users, tech support consultants or staff, and others to weigh in. And after that, the CEO may need to rubber-stamp it.
There’s another reason why B2B sales cycles can drag on: Fear of risk. Marketer/author Seth Godin has noted that avoiding risk is at the top of the sales consideration hierarchy. The fear of risk may be tied to the act of “spending someone else’s money” while at the same time, wanting “to please the boss.”
Success strategies: When feasible, use competitive pricing and promotions to encourage consumers to act quickly. Provide useful information online to help them make decisions, especially for expensive products or services. In B2B sales, be prepared to talk to multiple stakeholders in different departments or on various teams. You might have to provide formal presentations and proposals, as well as offer useful buying information online. Make sure you address the buyer’s fear of risk, too.
3. Consumers, fickle; businesses, loyal
Of course, consumers can be brand loyal. Just start a Nike vs. Adidas argument or Coke vs. Pepsi, and you’ll see brand loyalty in action.
But consumers are also likely to make purchases based on factors such as convenience and price, brand loyalty be damned. You might prefer HP laptops, for instance. But when pitted against a cool new Dell portable at a steep discount, you go with Dell.
In fact, a 2012 Harvard Business Review study found that 77 percent of consumers say they don’t have a relationship with a brand.
Also, consumer purchases are often one-offs, such as a flat-screen TV. Businesses may have a recurring need for a product or service. As a result, they’re likely to want an ongoing relationship with trusted partners, especially if they’re a critical supplier of parts, materials, goods or services that they regularly need. For businesses, convenience isn’t about making a purchase right now and getting it delivered ASAP. Convenience is, among other things, about not having to switch trusted suppliers on a regular basis. Thus, businesses tend to be loyal to their trusted partners.
Success strategies: Delivering a consistently positive experience to consumers can help build loyalty. But loyalty may only get you so far. For maximum B2B sales success, developing and maintaining personal relationships with buyers is key. Demonstrate that you’re in this relationship for the long haul. Designate a team member to respond quickly to the customer’s needs and questions. In short: Just as with B2C sales, deliver the best possible customer experience to maintain the relationship.
4. B2B sales people need more in-depth product knowledge than B2C counterparts
The higher the price of a product or service, the more questions you’ll likely get from prospects. Because so many consumer products are inexpensive commodities, your sales people probably won’t be fielding a myriad of detailed questions about how those products work. For instance, if you own a small chain of gourmet delis, your employees aren’t likely to need an exhaustive recall of the differences between pancetta and prosciutto.
But as already mentioned, products and services often cost more for businesses and therefore require approval from multiple stakeholders. So, to succeed, your sales staff will need deep knowledge of what they’re selling, whether it’s a customer relationship management software solution, a new inventory tracking system, or something else. How does the thing work, exactly? How is it different from competitors? What level of customer support is available and how is it available? What is the warranty provided? Who are some current customers and are they available to answer your questions?
Success strategies: B2C and B2B sales people should be trained to answer high-level questions. But B2B sales team members must be prepared to do a deep dive upon demand. This might require more effort and money spent on training and customer sales support.
How B2C and B2B sales are similar
Regardless of B2C or B2B sales channels, sales and marketing need to be coordinated, to complement each other. For example, your sales people should know about the lead generation campaigns the marketing folks have cooked up. Marketing needs to talk to sales about how those lead generation efforts are translating into dollars. Team members in both departments should understand what’s working, what’s not working, what needs to change, and how they can support each other.